Looking Different


Last night I got a chance to see the new photo exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, Positive Exposure: The Spirit of Difference. The show presents the wonderfully compassionate and endearing work by former fashion photographer Rick Guidotti. Through photographs and video, Guidotti works to promote human dignity of individuals, particularly children, with genetic conditions. I was familiar with Guidotti’s photographs though a slide show or a link that came my way, so was prepared to see beautiful photographs of individuals. I looked forward to seeing Guidotti’s success in capturing the joyful personalities of his subjects and encourage the viewer to resist defining them by their condition. While I knew what to expect to see, I was most taken by surprise by my response to each and every single one of these photographs.

Guidotti does not try to hide or in any way work to camouflage his subject’s conditions. This is no doubt part of the success of his photographs. He presents his subjects honestly. That’s not to say he catches them as they wake up in the morning. That’s not an honest portrayal of anyone. But the bright personalities easily upstage the symptoms visually associated with many of the genetic conditions.

Yet as I looked at each photograph I wanted to know from what these individuals suffered. I don’t know if it was genuine curiosity or a natural tendency to contextualize them according to their condition. Perhaps a lot like looking at a person of color and asking, “what are you?” (sic!) While looking at the photos, I quickly glanced at the labels hoping to discover the “disability.” The labels offered simply the individuals’s names, a sentence or two about their hobbies and accomplishments and the name of the genetic disorder. Seemingly, all of the information I needed to know. But I found myself frustrated when I wasn’t familiar with the disorder. Grumbling to myself (to Guidotti?), “how the hell am I supposed to know what that is!” then moving on to the next photograph. About halfway through the exhibit, it occurred to me this show was not going to teach me about these disorders. Why would it? In fact, it shouldn’t. If I want to know more about genetic conditions, I can look them up somewhere else. The exhibition is intended to present these individuals, people who love and are loved.

Since leaving the exhibit, I’ve forgotten nearly all of the names of the genetic disorders I sought, but cannot stop thinking of the beautiful personalities filling the gallery at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

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